Is Rossi the smiling assassin who always gets what he wants? Yamaha are certainly worried, reckons Mike Scott, the GP paddock pitbull
So it’s over, and Casey’s won. A second title defeat in a row for Valentino Rossi, and this one a real arse-kicking. Even in defeat Vale is the star of the show. He has people skills, after all.
Behind the scenes, he has been a driving force of serious turmoil. Much impetus for the control-tyre proposal came from his threats to quit if something wasn’t done to save him from his bad Michelins; and he then put the screws on harder to force through a bizarre one-man Bridgestone deal.
With consummate charm, however, he came out smelling of roses. And will again, now he has turned up the heat on Yamaha. It had always been, he said, “Yamaha’s prerogative to make bikes 20 kms slower than the others,” before laughingly dismissing the comment as a joke.
Wasn’t a joke, however, and after the last GP he went further. Even the Kawasakis and Suzukis were now faster than his M1, he pointed out, let alone Honda and the blistering Ducatis. And his engine had failed twice. If Yamaha didn’t sort it out, he was off – either to another manufacturer, or out of bike racing altogether.
The ground under Yamaha’s feet trembled again. I don’t think the engine men back at Hamamatsu HQ will get much sleep this winter.
The tyre switch – Rossi alone to Bridgestone while the other Yamaha guys stick with Michelin – was pure blackmail. Bridgestone had already told Honda and Yamaha to go away; but Rossi wouldn’t have it. Cue conspiracy, as Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta wades in. “Eh, Mr Bridgestone,” says he, in effect. “Give Rossi your tyres, or I make the one-tyre rule. In favour of Michelin.”
And so it came to pass, on the evening after the last race of the year, Rossi confirmed the switch. He was fully aware of the irony that but a few hours before, Pedrosa had won on Michelins.
Bridgestones may prove Rossi’s biggest gamble yet. Michelin will fight back after their worst season ever. So too will the defeated giant Honda. Of the two, I expect the most from Honda. Senior heads have rolled back at HRC after the dismal showing of the RC212V (although it was fast enough by the final race to pass Stoner’s Ducati in a straight line). The replacement was already ready for testing.
Of course, it had pneumatic valve springs. “Of course”, because until then Honda had been furiously denying the need to replace steel springs, in spite of the lead set by Aprilia, Suzuki, Kawasaki and eventually Yamaha.
More intriguing were rather implausible rumours that HRC was also testing a desmodromic version in secret in Japan.
Honda already has experience with pneumatics in F1, a face-saver if they copy their motorbike rivals in this matter. It’s much harder to imagine them being comfortable with copying a system nowadays exclusively associated with Ducati. Well, certainly in public, anyway …
The scale of the Musical Teams was almost unprecedented this year, as riders including Melandri, Hopkins and de Puniet left their old pits for their motorhomes, swiftly changed out of one set of leathers into another, and walked back to different pits.
Two signings were the weirdest. Most were struck by the recruitment of Loris Capirossi for Suzuki, who I saw described by one Australian magazine as “Tomorrow’s Man”. Good God: he turns 35 next April. Loris is a fierce competitor on his day, but most of them were yesterday. Secondly, he’s not reckoned to be much of a development rider. An odd choice.
Not as odd as that of Colin Edwards, dropped from the factory Yamaha squad but handed down to the satellite team, where he will team with James Toseland. The placement, dictated by Yamaha, dismayed Tech 3 team boss Hervé Poncharal, who was more than pleased with the 2007 progress of his own protégé, fellow-Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, who has now gone to Ducati.
I enjoyed watching Michael Schumacher belting round Valencia on a Desmosedici the day after the race, the seven-times F1 champion was only three seconds off race pace! His performance highlighted the pussyfooting of some (to be fair, not all) of the journalists who were “testing” the MotoGP bikes. More than one started braking before he was halfway down the main straight. I bet they won’t mention that when they’re talking about “feeling the traction control” and “steering with the rear” for the benefit of their readers.
Meanwhile, over at Suzuki, a little cameo, when 1987 World Champ and general racing hero Wayne Gardner popped round, hoping firstly to greet his former mechanic Stuart Shenton and secondly, please, to have a ride on their bike. He found his way barred by a rather over-enthusiastic PR man, who then turned round and asked: “Who the fuck was that?”
How soon we forget. Especially when we didn’t even know in the first place.
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